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Movie Review: Finishing the Game

Finishing the Game (IFC Films, 2007)
Directed by Justin Lin
Written by Lin and Josh Diamond

Justin Lin made an impression on Hollywood back in 2002 with his angst filled teen drama, Better Luck Tomorrow, one of the best films of that year. He made the move to American cinema and since has directed two films, Annapolis (One of the worst movies I’ve ever seen) and Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (One of the dumbest).

Thankfully, he decided to go back to his more independent roots and put together a fun and engaging “mockumentary” about a failed movie production. When Bruce Lee died, he left behind twelve minutes of a film called Game of Death. In Lin’s film, a father and son team have secured the rights to those final minutes of a legend’s screen time and decided to do a worldwide talent search to find a Bruce Lee replacement and finish up the film.

The majority of the film’s make-up is the casting process and the auditions for this big undertaking. The new possibilities for Lee include Breeze Loo (Roger Fan), a Bruce Lee knockoff who has had some success with low budget kung-fu films and is delusional with his belief in his acting abilities; Tarrick Tyler (McCaleb Burnett) is a half-Asian and all Caucasian in appearance radical that thinks the face of Asian cinema could use his unique look; Raja Moore (Mousa Kraish) is an Arab American trained in martial arts and as on occasion been Breeze Loo’s stunt double; Colgate Kim (Sung Kang) is a young, impressionable up-and-comer who seems more concerned with getting Breeze Loo’s autograph than actually taking the role seriously.

Lin does a great job in using this setup to attack the problems with minority roles in the Hollywood system, which were probably much more prominent than they are now back in the seventies. One of my favorite characters was Troy Poon (Dustin Nguyen) who got a bit of fame playing on a top rated cop show that got cancelled after nine episodes because his co-star (an unbilled and very funny James Franco) offed himself accidentally and was found with a slew of child porn and a Ku Klux Klan hood. Poon is relegated to being a door to door vacuum cleaner salesman who gets in the doors of women’s homes mostly due to his former star power and there hopes that he will deliver his famous tag line, “I’m not going to do your laundry.”

Christopher Guest (Best in Show, Waiting For Guffman) is one of the few filmmakers that understand how a “mockumentary” works. Even if his last couple haven’t been up to par, they’re still much more complete and entertaining than all of the copycats that have followed in his footsteps. Lin isn’t quite up to Guest standards, but he does a pretty good job.

Lin smartly stays away from pointing all of his jabs and comedy bits at the film system in general, and focuses more on the integration of minority actors. This gives Game a clearer avenue to satire than most comedies about Hollywood have, and in the end it makes it one of the better films of this type that I’ve seen in awhile. It’s a hell of a lot better than another Hollywood farce from this year, the underwhelming The T.V. Set.

There is plenty to laugh at here. Everything with Nguyen is well done including his refusal to even audition since he finds the idea of finishing this film more insulting than having to sell vacuum cleaners to star eyed housewives. I also enjoyed McCaleb Burnett’s character; one of the funniest bits is when Tarrick is doing a poetry reading at an all-Asian club. Meredith Scott-Lynn (Hollywood Homicide) has a funny small role as a casting director who claims she chooses her leading men based on their “Fuckability.” She even pans this criteria down to two sub-factors; drunk and sober.

The movie does have its lulls. There was a lot more that could have been done with the Breeze Loo character. And if you’re going to stick someone in as noticeable as MC Hammer playing an “Agent for the Colored People,” make sure that he can actually act. I think his role takes away from the fluidity of the film. Also, as in a lot of these types of films, it falls flat with the ending. Cutting so quickly to the credits and then showing pictures of our cast with written descriptions of where they are now is as tired as just about any device Hollywood as concocted over the last thirty years.

Still, despite these dull moments, Finishing the Game is one of the nice and few suprises of 2007. It’s nice to see Lin back at work telling a good story. Unfortunately, his next film will be yet another Fast and Furious sequel, but here’s hoping after a couple of more big budget pieces he goes back to what he does best, and gives us another unique experience like this film.


Sam Loomis

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